Resolution Adopted by the CCAR

ETHIOPIAN YOUTH IN ISRAEL

Adopted at the 106th Annual Convention of the
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Jerusalem, Israel
March, 1995 / Adar II, 5755

Background

Israel's ability to integrate and absorb Jewish immigrants and refugees from all over the world is a source of immense pride to all Jews. Israel, in fact, does more to assist refugees than any other country in the world.

Had it not been for the swift response of both the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, 15,000 Ethiopian Jews now building new lives in Israel might well still languish in Gondar, Addis Ababa, or the Sudan. We praise those government and Jewish Agency leaders who seized a rare and fleeting opportunity to perform a truly great mitzvah.

While Israel has made enormous strides in the housing and employment areas of absorption, there are growing problems in the area of education. A high percentage of children have been tracked into non-college matriculation programs, many students have been sent to Youth Aliyah villages with high concentrations of Ethiopian students. Away from their families many have had difficulties in making the adjustment. The result of this is that only 2% of Ethiopian Israeli high school students go on to college, as opposed to over 30% of the average Israeli youth (including new immigrants). The vocational training programs are having increasing problems in placing graduates, and a growing number are simply dropping out.

Like every previous wave of olim, Ethiopians promise to strengthen and enrich the state of Israel, and the Jewish people, in ways we can only begin to imagine. But, also like every other previous wave of olim, they will reach their full potential only if we, as fellow Jews, are willing to do whatever is necessary fully to integrate them into Israeli society.

We now hope that, three years later, those who responded so swiftly and effectively to a crisis before will feel compelled to do so again. We hope, too, that neither the Jewish Agency nor the Israeli government will allow inertia to prevent the swift resolution of a problem that daily grows larger.

For a variety of reasons -- none intentional or malicious -- hundreds of Ethiopian youths are beginning to be shunted into the margins of Israeli society, with the result that they are beginning to form an excluded and frustrated underclass that will only grow in years to come.

Elem, a non-profit organization for children at risk which operates out of the Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, reports that at least 500 Ethiopian young people, mainly dropouts from Youth Aliyah boarding schools and public junior high schools, now live on the streets. They are isolated and alienated from other Israelis and from their own families. According to the report, this group of disaffected Ethiopian youth threatens to grow by several hundred more if fundamental changes in the education of Ethiopian youth are not made. In an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha-Aretz, Minister of Absorption Yair Tzaban called for change, reporting that, "The Education Department and Aliyat HaNoar are working under the most difficult conditions, because of the existing heavy concentration of Ethiopian students in the youth villages, and the request of the majority of the Ethiopian parents for religious education for their children. Despite difficult conditions, we have to make a change."

The Ministries of Education and Absorption have recognized the extent of this problem and propose to resolve it by: reducing the number of Ethiopian youth going to Youth Aliyah boarding schools; providing students with supplemental education as well as the funds necessary for attendant fees and supplies that will allow them to study while living at home; more thoroughly integrating Ethiopian students with their non-Ethiopian counterparts; and providing more opportunities for Ethiopian students to follow bagrut (college matriculation) tracks. The Jewish Agency, an obviously key and essential player in any solution to this problem, is currently considering this plan.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Central Conference of American Rabbis: 1) recognize and applaud both the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel for their deep commitment to, and hard work on behalf of, the full absorption of all refugees including, over the past three years, the absorption of the Ethiopian olim; 2) call upon the Jewish Agency to agree to the proposals set forth by the Ministries of Education and Absorption, and to assist immediately and swiftly in implementation, and 3) call upon the entire American Jewish community to follow this issue, monitor its progress, and continue its strong support of Ethiopian Jewish absorption, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the CCAR call upon its members to support organizations in North America working for the absorption of Ethiopian Jewry, such as the Reform Movement's Project Reap, that supports Ethiopian Jewry advocacy and service efforts, the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, the Israel Religious Action Center, and the Leo Baeck School, as well as the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.